In the space of one month Sebastian Vettel went from love at first sight with his Ferrari SF90 – “very close to perfection” he claimed after the first day of testing – to finishing almost a minute behind the race winner in the season-opening race. No way can that be a realistic reflection of where Ferrari really are. Certainly Mercedes made timely steps with their W10 and unleashed more of its performance in Melbourne. But the prevailing view that Ferrari made a mis-step with its set-up, and erred on the conservative side with its power unit, is persuasive.
Two weeks on, the key question for Ferrari, and for the state of this year’s championship fight, is how much progress they have made in addressing those shortcomings. On paper Bahrain, scene of victories for Vettel on F1’s last two visits, looks like a venue which should play to their strengths.
However, Sebastian Vettel has admitted that it is tough for drivers at the Bahrain Grand Prix, due to the difficulty of the circuit: “From a driver’s point of view, I would describe the level of difficulty for this circuit as basically normal,” he explained. “However, it is hard to find the right rhythm in the desert, mainly because of the sand that the wind blows onto the track. Every lap is different, which can be a decisive factor, especially in qualifying. If you move just a few inches off the ideal line, you start to slide and you can throw your lap in the bin, because you just can’t make up the time you lose at this point and the rate of mistakes is significantly higher than at other circuits.”
Drivers will have to battle with 35 per-cent humidity and 30 degree heat after lights out on Sunday. Sebastian Vettel came out on top last year in Bahrain, as he finished less than a second ahead of Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas. The grid was nearly the same as the qualifying positions, as the four-time world champion led from the start.
Overtaking spots in Bahrain are hard to come by, and Vettel admitted that it is tough to pass other drivers. He did, however, point out two spots on the track where overtaking is easier: “You need to be patient before overtaking, maybe waiting for the driver in front of you to have a small slide,” he continued – “There are two very good overtaking opportunities: at the first corner and at corner 14, after the long straight.”